I want to start off this article first and foremost by saying that I live in a community with a large Muslim population with people from the Middle East. I am friends with many of them and also frequent their business as one of their customers. I have grown to love them as a people and believe them to be great neighbors. However, most of these Muslims are probably nominal followers of Islam that are unaware of their religious roots and sacred writings—similar to the millions of nominal Christians in the world today.
I also understand why President Obama is hesitant to identify ISIS as Islamic, because he needs the help of allied Muslim nations to defeat the spread of radical Islam. He also wants to protect the millions of peaceful Muslims who have immigrated to this nation. I also do not agree with the way the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo made fun of the prophet Muhammad and would not wear an "I am Charlie" T-shirt or identify with them—except for their right to exercise free speech. That being said, the horrendous behavior in recent years of groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaida and others has been given Christ followers a huge opportunity to reach nominal Muslims. We can now share with nominal Muslims the way their faith began. It is an indisputable historical fact that Islamic armies conquered much of North Africa and the Middle East. Regarding the nature of Islam's violent beginning, the following are several excerpts from anweringislam.org:
"Muhammad was also involved in defensive and offensive battles. The Arabian tribes who had previously rejected Muhammad were now asked again to submit to him. For most of the tribes sending a military delegation did this. Before, Muhammad's armies would attack a tribe they would invite them to accept Islam first:
"'The Apostle of Allah, sent Khalid Ibn al-Walid with four hundred Muslims to Banu al-Harith ... He ordered him to invite them to Islam three times before fighting. ... They accepted what he had called them to. He stayed among them to teach them Islam, its regulations, the Book of Allah and the sunnah of His Prophet' (Ibn Sa'd, Kitab Al-Tabaqat Al-Kabir, vol. 1, p. 399).
"Muhammad said that he was commanded by Allah to spread Islam this way:
"'Narrated Ibn "Umar: Allah's Apostle said: 'I have been ordered (by Allah) to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah's Apostle ...'" (Bukhari: vol. 1, bk. 2, no. 24, Khan).
"'Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden—such men as practise not the religion of truth' (Qur'an 9:29-33, Arberry).
"During this period of warfare, Muhammad's teaching was still very important. He inspired his soldiers to fight with the promise of paradise. ... Consider these verses from the Qur'an:
"'O You who believe! Shall I guide you to a commerce that will save you from a painful torment. That you believe in Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad SAW), and that you strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives, that will be better for you, if you but know! (If you do so) He will forgive you your sins, and admit you into Gardens under which rivers flow, and pleasant dwelling in Gardens of 'Adn Eternity ['Adn (Edn) Paradise.'"
As a matter of fact, if a Muslim turns away from his faith he is ordered to be put to death. Muhammad says, "Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him."
He says those words in the most canonical hadith collection, Sahih al-Bukhari, 9.84.57.
Just recently I shared these facts with a Muslim cab driver I met. I asked him how he feels about being a Muslim knowing that ISIS and Boko Haram are kidnapping and beheading people if they do not convert to Islam. He said that Islam is a religion of peace and that they do not represent true Islam.
I told him that they do not represent the average Muslim in the world who I believe is peace loving, however, I shared with him how Islam started with the sword and how the early leaders of Islam put people to death in the name of Allah. He was shaken up and allowed me to pray for him. This is just a microcosm of the huge opportunity we have before us. We Christ followers need to reach out to nominal Muslims as never before because they are being humiliated and are angered by violent followers of their religion. (These radical extremists are also murdering many Muslims.)
In dealing with this subject, President Obama compared the radical Islamic terrorists with the Christian crusaders of millennia ago. I believe this is misleading because many of the Crusaders were merely reacting to the fact the Islamic armies were now threatening to take over Europe and indeed did take over Spain for several hundred years. Of course some of the Crusaders misrepresented Christ when they committed atrocities against the Jews and other humans, and many were seeking gold and self-glory—but the impetus for many of them seems to be to protect their homeland and their religion from being eradicated by Islam according to some scholars.
The following is from an article I read recently by Thomas F. Madden: "With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed's death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), ... The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of Western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East. That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense."
In closing, during this time of extreme violence in the name of Islam, God is calling us not to fear or hate our Muslim neighbors but to share with them the reality of the risen Lord Jesus—whom Muslims revere as the great Prophet who preceded Muhammad. Since typical Muslims equate Christianity mostly with either a Roman Catholicism that worships Mary plus three other gods, (the Trinity) or the Crusaders of the past and or the compromised variety of the present liberal protestant denominations—true Christ followers are desperately needed to stand up now and love them enough to reveal who Jesus really is.
Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church and Christ Covenant Coalition, in Brooklyn, New York, and author of numerous books, including Ruling in the Gates: Preparing the Church to Transform Cities. Follow him on Facebook or visit him online at josephmattera.org.
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